The need for safety during Covid has caused a withdrawal from public life. We’re not participating in communal events like church, school, and family gatherings. Our institutions are going through the motions in zoom meetings, waiting for the pharmaceutical companies to save the planet. The recent presidential election made government seem important, but once it was over, a lot of the issues that had folks fighting in the streets have receded from our consciousness. Look at the Fayetteville City Council’s Agenda this month. Hard decisions on the future of the Market House have been pushed off to 2021. It’s just zoning changes for the rest of the year. The North Carolina General Assembly hasn’t done anything since Covid began besides spend some federal money. Don’t get me started on Congress.
But I need to look in the mirror. Maybe I’m projecting? Although writing a political blog is a hobby, I feel a sense of responsibility to point out the truth on local issues as I see them. But I’ve withdrawn to my little covid safety routine, as I’m sure many of you have. I quit writing for a while. Once you stop putting in the work, it’s harder to start up again.
A recent article that popped up on my newsfeed got me thinking about the dangers of sitting in our safe, private spaces.
The Death Spiral of Public Life
It’s worth a quick read. It argues that our withdrawal from public life will permanently degrade our public institutions. Public schools are hit the worst, as many upper-middle class families are leaving for private schools (that are actually open). These families aren’t coming back. Public transportation isn’t being used because people aren’t going to work or travelling. Each of these public services will lose funding and each will suffer long term ramifications that will last well beyond the pandemic.
The result is this:
- An increasingly large (and increasingly expensive) à la carte menu of necessary private services for those that can afford them.
- Crappy government services for the poor.
Income inequality widens. America suffers.
The C.S. Lewis Answer
I’m going to throw some religion on this fire:
In his famous book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has a demon, Screwtape, writing to his nephew (also a demon), giving him advice on how to capture a man’s soul. In a relevant correspondence, Screwtape offers the following:
The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
Feel numb to it all lately? You’re not alone.
You’ve been told to stay indoors, cover your face, hide your kids, hide your wives! Don’t do anything! Just sit there! A vaccine is on the way, next year! Your little county is now code level burnt orange due to rising positivity rates, so don’t even think about seeing your elderly parents this Christmas!
What active habits that don’t involve a screen have you actually done more of? Are even those becoming dull? Thought of writing a book about it? A blog post?
Inherent Design Flaw?
When I was in public school, I did have some screen time, and we got to play “educational” games. The best was the Oregon Trail. Your mission was to get your party from Missouri to Oregon in a covered wagon. The worst thing that could happen in the game was disease.
But you kept going. Sitting still wasn’t an option. A wagon is made to roll. Similarly, a human being is not made to sit still for years at a time. We’re designed to create, to move.
I would argue that the American political system is built on the recognition of this truth, and maybe that’s why we’re so bad at pandemics. The constant strain of personal freedom vs. the public good combined with a lack of leadership has caused a spiritual sickness in this country. We’ve lost our ability to act and our ability to feel is right behind it.
We’ve got to get moving soon. It’s who we are.